Climate Violence and the Word

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The climate crisis is here presented as an assemblage of synergistic violences, including lethal violence to human and nonhuman bodies, violence to territories, and the violence of legal and extra-legal words. I extrapolate from Robert Cover’s thesis on the relationship between legal words and violence and focus upon the interplay between words and climate violence and, in particular, on the paucity of existing terminology and framings in relation to this phenomenon. Despite findings in some civil climate lawsuits that a continuing failure to mitigate on the part of nations of the Global North will violate the right to life, the terminology of murder is not widely adopted and no prosecutions have ensued. Similarly, the severity of inter-State territorial violence, as a consequence of a failure to mitigate and historical and ongoing emissions on the part of developed nations, is downplayed in international law through the strategic deployment of framings such as ‘disappearing States’, security threats, and ‘loss and damage’. Finally, the climate crisis is entangled with the violence of law. Yet law’s violence, rather than targeting corporate and State perpetrators of climate violence, is directed against non-violent climate activists who are portrayed as terrorists. I explore underlying reasons for this. Viewing climate change as a material manifestation of intersecting forms of violence reveals law’s complicities and limitations, and highlights the importance of narrative framings and language in understanding and addressing the climate crisis.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)144-168
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Human Rights and the Environment
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 22 Sept 2023


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